Macmillan Davies meets…

Tue, October 24, 2017

Helen Rosethorn, Partner at Prophet & Author of 'The employer brand - keeping faith with the deal.'

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

I am a Durham graduate who spent her early years in journalism and PR. To be honest I stumbled into the world of talent but I am glad I did. I was working for Hay-MSL now part of TMP and studying part-time for an MBA when I began to really appreciate the power of engagement in organisational performance and the importance of culture as a strategic lever. Just as I completed my MBA I was headhunted to join the original Macmillan Davies where I went on to be MD of Advertising following the acquisition of the business by Omnicom and merger with Bernard Hodes, and then CEO of the whole business from 2000. One aspect of my years as CEO that I am most proud of is establishing the HR consulting arm of the business and it was where I realised my passion lay – hence our pioneering work in the field of employer brand and engagement and the book we authored in 2009.

Now I am a partner with Prophet, a management consultancy specialising in growth and brand strategy. There are 400 of us around the world in 10 offices – our newest one being Shanghai which opened this year.

I run our global discipline in Culture, Capability and Engagement (CCE). It is one of the fastest growing areas of Prophet across our three platforms of brand and experience, growth acceleration and digital transformation. I had not anticipated another big job when I stepped out of the world of Omnicom in 2014 but here I am and having a ball!

Q. What does your role at Prophet entail when partnering with companies to drive their business performance?

Every piece of work we do for our clients here at Prophet brings with it some aspect of internal engagement and change – although obviously some projects are more focused on this than others. The work we do within CCE is therefore very varied – whether it is doing a cultural diagnostic for a global bank, a change program in support of new digital customer moves for a telecoms client or defining and implementing the global employer brand for one of the world’s most famous charities. 

Q. Why do you think engagement has become such a core focus for many companies right now?

I think there are three primary reasons (1) evidence – there is finally a lot more data out there showing how organisations that are more employee experience centric outperform those who are not (2) the pressure on organisational performance post the financial markets melt down and an awakening by some leaders – sadly not all – that instead of looking at people as a cost, they are truly an asset to be managed for value (3) the changing world of work and as part of that a greater understanding of what the next generation entering the workforce is looking for from employers.

In many ways – and we have lots of research to support this – what millennials and now centennials are looking for is not massively different from their predecessors. However, in the context of a deeper desire for meaningful work, the new construct of careers as we all live and work longer plus the march of automation, responding to what it takes to motivate the employees you need to join and stay with your organisation is more critical than ever.

Q. How important do you think having a values based culture is for maintaining an engaged workforce?

Over the years of researching workplaces all over the world, the role of values has often been a big discussion point. Values are fundamental and I have seen organisations where candidates have joined only to be disappointed by aspects of reward and career development, yet the power of ethics and values has compensated for that in their “sense of the deal”. But a values based culture is not going to make up more fundamental short falls in the eyes of employees. And as I have already said, the importance of purpose and meaningful work itself is coming to the fore as we all search for being part of entities and institutions we can believe in and trust. 

For me there are three obstacles business leaders need to bear in mind: (1) poor measurement of engagement – by this I mean that many “off the shelf” employee engagement surveys really do not offer the insight needed to understand the dynamics of engagement and they certainly do not give a seriously useful assessment of culture. I am working right now with an organisation who quite simply have said, “we don’t believe our engagement survey results any more – what they say and what we see are two different things.”

(2) the paradox of engagement – there is a growing body of research that shows people at all levels in an organisation, so don’t think just millennials, describe themselves as “satisfied” at work but can be actively considering leaving their employer. Work we have done at Prophet illustrates that what employers need to be far more attuned to is that engagement is not just about measuring how it feels in the workplace, but how it feels for my life overall. 

(3) the pivotal role of anyone’s immediate manager – this is absolutely not a new challenge – but one that organisations again and again do not invest the time and effort to address. It is a combination of “too big and difficult” and the perennial issue that people are rarely promoted into managerial and leadership roles for their people engagement skills. 

Q. What are the biggest trends / predictions for employee engagement over the next few years?

I personally think – and hope – that the concept of employee engagement will get pulled apart and redefined – it needs to be! I have already mentioned the fact that people can be happy at work but considering leaving and that as a trend is only likely to continue in my view. So how do organisations behave faced with that dynamic? We also now have multiple generations in the workplace as people want and/or need to stay working longer. Again, this adds to the mix of considerations.

One thing however that many employers are poor on is the use of digital tools in strengthening the employee experience. And I don’t think employers appreciate how stark a contrast this is for employees who are consumers too and therefore used to running their lives through their mobile phone. This has to change and the employers who really embrace this in a super connected way will elevate their engagement and people performance.

Prophet is a global consultancy fusing insights, brand strategy, design and digital to help businesses grow better brands. Experts in helping clients to harness the power of people in their organisations - from culture and values, purpose and brand to capability and engagement - whilst always bridging the gap between strategy and execution to drive impactful growth acceleration and digital transformation. Prophet has a global footprint, with 10 offices across Europe, United States and Asia.

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